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Beleaguered shop owners waiting for business to ramp up

Beleaguered shop owners waiting for business to ramp up
Beleaguered shop owners waiting for business to ramp up

Steffy Ho runs a spa and nail salon near the corner of St-Jean and Pierrefonds boulevards. Customers have been slow to return following the flood. Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

“We’re open!” Lyne Leblanc said with a soupçon of frustration in her voice. 

Leblanc has been cutting hair at T & M Coiffeurs for 30 years.

The hair salon is one of 10 businesses that once flourished in a strip mall near the intersection of St-Jean and Pierrefonds boulevards. But all that changed May 2 when the intersection flooded and close to two ft. of water gushed into the shops. Extreme flooding devastated the region this spring and the road to recovery for homeowners and business owners alike has been fraught with delays.

The strip mall in question was once anchored by a Mourelatos grocery store, but since the flooding shut it down there’s been no word about whether it will open. Mourelatos headquarters did not return a call from the Montreal Gazette. Unfortunately for the small shops in the mall, the first thing drivers see as they approach the intersection is the grocery store’s darkened interiors with its windows only partially blocked by sagging swaths of brown paper.

“They see that and people think the mall is finished,” Leblanc said, gesturing towards the grocery store.

The hair salon is one of four shops that were gutted and rebuilt following the flood. They reopened in mid-August to zero fanfare and the owners have been trying to get the word out ever since.

“We need to put a big teddy bear with balloons right in the middle of the (empty) parking lot to let people know we’re here,” Leblanc said.  

At least one attempt to advertise recently was thwarted. The mall’s Bijouterie Zoé was threatened with a fine by a borough inspector after the owner set up a sign without a permit. Pierrefonds-Roxboro borough mayor Jim Beis stepped in and quashed the fine.

“These people have been through four months of hell,” Beis told the Montreal Gazette. “I told the inspectors to lay off for now. These are really nice stores. The borough needs to do its part to get the word out.”

After visiting the shops, Sept. 1, Beis ordered a large sign be installed at the intersection near the mall announcing the businesses are open. The news of the openings is also posted on the Pierrefonds-Roxboro Facebook page.

The sign was installed last Friday.

Cordonnerie Garo & Mélanie and Ongle & Spa Steffy and are also open for business.  

Cordonnerie owner Garabed Tavitian is happy to be open again but is “worried about getting business back up to what it was before the flood.”

The morning a reporter visited the mall, only one customer was sighted, entering the meticulously clean Ongle & Spa Steffy.

“We opened two years ago and were finally getting a good client base,” spa owner Steffy Ho said. “This is my family’s main source of income. And now winter is coming and we don’t even have regulars (regular customers) to keep us going.”

Both Ho and Leblanc were faced with the same dilemma during the 14 weeks the businesses were closed. They didn’t know how long the repairs would take, so it was difficult to commit to a temporary job elsewhere. 

The mall’s landlord paid for the replacement of the walls, floors and, in the case of the spa, the ceiling. The spa’s pedicure chairs survived the flooding because they were perched on a riser and the hair-cutting chairs in the salon were also saved. Everything else had to be replaced at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars. Insurance claims were rejected. Did overflowing riverbanks cause the shops to flood or was sewer backup the culprit? 

Ho said she continues to pursue her insurance claim, but that it’s now being bounced back and forth between her insurance carrier and the Quebec government. In the meantime, she’s had to take out a loan to cover renovation costs.

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